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What is a research paradigm?

A research paradigm is “the set of common beliefs and agreements shared

between scientists about how problems should be understood and addressed”
(Kuhn, 1962)

According to Guba (1990), research paradigms can be characterised through their:

 ontology – What is reality?

 epistemology – How do you know something?
 methodology – How do you go about finding it out?
The diagram below explains the above terms and the relationship between them:

If the above still doesn’t make things clear, don’t worry. I would now recommend
you watch this video which explains the above in very simple terms, and explains
the two major paradigms: positivism and constructivism.

Why is it important?
Your ontology and epistemology create a holistic view of how knowledge is viewed
and how we can see ourselves in relation to this knowledge, and the
methodological strategies we use to un/discover it. Awareness of philosophical
assumptions will increase quality of research and can contribute to the creativity of
the researcher. Furthermore, you will be asked about it in your viva and are
expected to narrate it when you write up your research findings.
Which research paradigm does my research

belong to?
In really simple terms, the three most common paradigms are explained below
(and are shown in this epistemology diagram too, taken from here):
 Positivists believe that there is a single reality, which can be measured and
known, and therefore they are more likely to use quantitative methods to
measure and this reality.
 Constructivists believe that there is no single reality or truth, and therefore
reality needs to be interpreted, and therefore they are more likely to use
qualitative methods to get those multiple realities.
 Pragmatists believe that reality is constantly renegotiated, debated,
interpreted, and therefore the best method to use is the one that solves the
The table below (which I created) gives a more detailed overview of each paradigm
(and contains subjectivism and critical too), and your own research paradigm could
very well sit in between one of the paradigms. You could use a top down or a
bottom up approach (Rebecca explains here) to decide where your research sits. In
a bottom up approach, you decide on your research question, then you decide
which methods, methodology, theoretical perspective you will approach your
research from. In reality, I believe its probably neither strictly a top down or bottom
up approach, you probably go back and forth till you find the right fit. I believe each
research project would have a different research paradigm and hence a different
theoretical perspective.
Table adapted from various sources, including Crotty (1998). Crotty left ontology out of
his framework, and also didn’t include Pragmatism and Critical. But the assumptions
underlying every piece of research are both ontological and epistemological.
Where does most social science research sit?
According to Eddie, and quoting directly, most social science sits into the following:
“1. Experimental (Positivist), with a more realist ontology (i.e. reality is out there), with
an empiricist epistemology (i.e. and I’ll gather sense data to find it);
2. Postmodernist constructivism, with a less realist ontology (i.e. reality is just a load
of competing claims), and a constructivist epistemology (i.e. and I’ll analyse those
competing accounts to explore it)
Applied, then to social psychology, it is important to understand the tension, throughout
its history, between:
1. A more traditional experimental (quantitative) approach, which sees social reality as a
set of facts to be known for all time by measuring people in the laboratory;
2. A more critical, discursive (qualitative) approach, which sees social reality as mutually
constructed between people in the real world.”
However, I must add that pragmatism (and hence mixed methods research) is also
being increasingly used in social sciences.

What impact will my chosen paradigm have on

my research?
It will have a huge impact. Let me give you an example of an interview based
research that is constructivist:

“So as GP trainers, constructivism means that to understand our trainees and their
learning, beliefs or behaviours we have to be aware of their experience and culture
(the historical and cultural contexts) and recognise that they don’t just potentially
see the world differently to us, but experience it differently too.” Source.

Useful reading and references

Texts I found useful:
Crotty, M., 1998. Foundations of social research: Meaning and Perspective in the
Research Process. p.256.
Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Jackson, P.R., 2012. Management Research.
[online] SAGE Publications. Available at:
id=ahbhMb-R7MQC&pgis=1> [Accessed 14 Jul. 2015].
Scotland, J., 2012. Exploring the philosophical underpinnings of research: Relating
ontology and epistemology to the methodology and methods of the scientific,
interpretive, and critical research paradigms. English Language Teaching, 5(9), pp.9–

Structure of a Research Paper

Ink welcomes submissions from all departments on campus.
It is expected that the author use the guidelines and
conventions followed in the discipline for structuring a
research paper.

This page outlines the general guidelines for each section of a research paper. The
author may wish to consult this page as a checklist before submitting. The guidelines
closely follow the conventions that many disciplines have adopted for the structure of a
research paper; however, these are only suggestions. The organization of the research
paper is ultimately decided by the author and the faculty mentor.

Title Page

The title page should contain the:

1. name(s) of the author(s)
2. name and position of the mentor
3. name of the program or course in which the research was completed
4. department in which the research was conducted
5. contact information of both author(s) and mentor(s)
6. date of completion

The abstract should be less than 250 words. It should indicate the:
1. problem to be investigated
2. purpose of the study
3. methods
4. major results
5. interpretations and implications of the results


The introduction should provide the reader with all the background information needed
to understand the paper. The author should explain key terms, give historical
information on the problem studied, and cite other studies that have obtained relevant

Manuscript Body

This section contains the “core” of the paper. Ideally, it should be broken down into
further sections such as methods and materials, results, discussion, and conclusion.
The author should use his or her discretion in dividing the body in the most natural way.


The references page should acknowledge all the resources used for obtaining
information. The resource should be cited according to either APA or CBE guidelines.
Examples of citations can be found on the submissions page of the website.


This section is devoted to thanking any persons or institutions that made the research